When Leaders Consider Themselves Above Others

By | July 3, 2016

[July 3, 2016]  Captain “Jack” Willis was a large man with a big personality.  He was also intelligent, motivated, and experienced.  Those of us new Second Lieutenants going through the U.S. Army Infantry Officer Basic Course at Fort Benning were in awe of him and we all expected someday he would be a general officer.  He seemed to have it all with a beautiful wife and graduate of West Point but there was one thing about his personality that bothered us; he considered himself above others.

Captain Willis thought he was better than the other Captains in our school, especially better than all the inexperienced junior Lieutenants.  It wasn’t that he was nasty or unapproachable but we could sense it in our time around him.  His smile seemed artificial and his time more valuable than ours.

One day we discovered that he had violated a minor Army regulation; he had exceeded the spending limit on the shipment of his household goods from his previous assignment to Fort Benning.  But our command considered it important enough to consider a written reprimand be given to Willis.  Wow, did we underestimate the reaction.  Captain Willis was “indignant” – to use his words – that he would be “singled out for punishment on such an inconsequential matter.”

When an inquiry was made into the matter, he denied his guilt and instead put blame on the clerk who had raised the issue.  There was simply no getting Captain Willis to admit that he had any responsibility at all.  This frustrated the unit’s command and eventually lead to Willis’ transfer out of the school to a less prestigious assignment.1

This reminds me of the situation today with some of our politicians in the United States.  From reading international news, it’s also likely to mirror other politicians across most nations.  I’m particularly reminded of Captain Willis whenever I hear Ms. Hillary Clinton speak about her role in the Benghazi attacks, classified information in her private emails, and the Clinton Foundation’s charity that is funding her and her husband’s travels.

Most leaders are quick to realize the barriers that such behavior creates and thus avoid considering themselves above others.  Yet, when one does consider themselves above others, they are saying they have no respect for or consideration of other people.  Many who do this are actually narcissists and although their outward traits – vain, fretful, self-indulgent – belies the long-term destructive force that is so debilitating to an organization (see my earlier posting on Leader Trends: Are We Narcissists?  Link here).

Most of us don’t have many options to rebuke such behavior and are generally content with avoiding persons like Captain Willis.2  But the responsibility to act properly lies squarely on the shoulders of the leader, to avoid at all costs, acting as if you are above others.

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  1. I’m not sure what ever happened to Captain “Jack” Willis.  In my remaining years as an officer and eventually as a General flag officer, I never ran across him.  I surmise that he must have gotten out of the service and gone into the private sector as so many Captains do.
  2. Actually there are several options and none are very good for the person who considers themselves above others.  If this is in the workplace examples can be in work slowdowns, sick outs at crucial times, and other such work related events meant to send a message to management.




Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.